'Your work must be your passion'

'Your work must be your passion'

many hats

'Your work must be your passion'

When you hear about anyone associated with human resources, you immediately conjure up an image of a stern individual who talks payroll and deals with people with an air of overbearing exasperation.

Now, take a break from that imagination to meet Saagarika Ghoshal. Saagarika has been the head of Human Resources at Metro Cash and Carry for the last 20 years. She has also been listed in 50 Most Influential HR Leaders in Asia and is counted as one of the India’s Best HR Leaders. She has also received a mention in Business Today’s Next 30 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business.

Although she describes herself as a hardcore HR professional, Saagarika says she loves to travel and eat. And a by-product of one of the passions has been a cookbook that she recently published. The book focuses on the stories of chefs who have made India proud at a global level. It contains stories about their journeys, the credit they’ve received, how they are giving it back to the society, their favourite recipes and advice to younger chefs. Saagarika says she always had such an idea about writing a book in her mind.

“It was only a matter of time before it took shape. I had various reasons to write it, especially since nobody in India has done something like this before. This is my journey,” she says.

But when it comes to describing her experience in the HR industry over the years, Saagarika has a pretty straightforward funda: “The most important thing at work is that you should be happy doing what you’re doing. Your work must be your passion. I have done something closer to business rather than human resources in all the organisations I’ve worked with.”

When I ask her what it is like for women to be in the corporate world, she quips, “Throughout my working life, I have liked where I’ve been and it shows in the results. Right now, speaking of the corporate world, there are so many women who have already achieved so much. They require no hand holding. But on the other hand, a lot of freshers do. That is why I emphasise that nurturing yourself is important in an organisation.”

Interactive environment

Saagarika believes that bringing in more women to a workplace eventually leads to better interaction, business and a better environment. “Over the last three decades, nothing much has changed with respect to inclusivity. But the society and the attitude at the workplace have. And I’m not talking about pink parties and special days. I’m talking about day to day work. Men are also thinking about how women are contributing. Mothers and wives are also working. Of course, regulatories have also helped where we are,” she reckons.

What about sabbaticals? How easy is it for women to take breaks while on their career paths? “Where it is important you take a break — personal, financial — HR plays a big role because you are forming policies that are conclusive and inclusive in the organisation. The same applies for men also. Whether they want to take a break for the sake of a hobby or because of boredom, we create an environment where men and women take calls in such matters,” she adds.

But it is popular opinion that women are afraid to even ask for a break, let alone taking it. “That mostly depends on the maturity of organisation. Some might make it difficult for people thinking about taking a break. It also depends on the nature of the industry. For instance, in retail, the work from home option is not really feasible, because business is on the floor. But in IT or consulting, they can be far more flexible. Similarly, a telecom industry cannot replicate the best practices of a manufacturing industry. Even startups these days are doing it because they want to nurture and retain talent. And this does not apply just to women — it also includes differently-abled people and the LGBT community,” she explains.

Know your priorities

So, what is the best way for a woman to surge ahead in the workplace? This is fairly simple according to her: “First, you as an employee should know your priority and plan and make sure that it is in line with the organisation’s. Otherwise, there will always be a mismatch. It is important for employers also to hire people with similar priorities and who can navigate realities of work. It is important for women to know workplace policies in order for them to utilise it.”

Saagarika believes she too has had to face many challenges in her career. The first one being that of work balance. She thinks she hasn’t been able to delegate everything at home. Personally, she says it feels like being on a see-saw. A second challenge she says would be if you had to deal with an environment that was not friendly or acceptable — like if you couldn't talk to people transparently. “I have been thinking of taking a sabbatical for so long, but haven’t been able to do it, because I wonder if it is the right thing to do. I find it fascinating how the young generation is able to do so and go on a world tour and things like that,” she adds.

So, what advice does Saagarika have for youngsters? “Join a place that translates your own vision. Expectations have to be set so you’re not surprised. Employees should feel like welcome returning to a workplace several years after having quit. It must feel like going from one home to another. This is what an HR professional has to ensure. And the rest is all jargon,” she puts it simply.

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